Soundcheck: FearDorian’s Electric And Noisy Debut

For the latest edition of Soundcheck, Donna-Claire highlights FearDorian's unwavering clarity across his debut album –– backed by experimental vocal manipulations and lush production.
By    April 3, 2024

Image via FearDorian/Instagram

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All Donna-Claire does is write books and play board games with her wife.

The city is Atlanta, the era is post-6 Dogs, pre-whatever happens when the collapse of digital streaming services takes hold. The sound is murky and emotional, like if someone held emo rap’s head under a stream as Midwestern emo guitar riffs played ripples over the water’s surface. The artist is 17-year-old FearDorian, the album is his debut of the same name. The effect is electric and noisy. As FearDorian’s lungs fill with water, he shouts through the din and rises out of his body to occupy a third space. Our eyes dart around, our ears are tuned in—will he steer us into the next era of the digital underground?

FearDorian is a true SoundCloud denizen—he asked to be in rap collective Surf Gang at age 12. He’s somewhere between the golden age of Corbin singles and classic Lil Yachty drops, an artist who exists as an outgrowth of a new generation looping up beats on FL Studio and terraforming weird corners of the internet. In ATL, FearDorian started his career doing ad-libs for other artists, until he transitioned into production in the fall of 2019. From “basic” beats to having a rolodex of emo bands to sample on his phone, FearDorian crafted a sound reminiscent of Gothboiclique circa 2015. But when he produces outside of his evocative comfort zone—linking with the upcoming Milwaukee scene’s leaders, for instance—he understands the give and take of slotting into a different city’s sound while retaining the essence of what makes his music memorable.

On his self-titled debut album, no song breaks two minutes and thirty seconds. The tracks are blistering sketches of teenage angst and knotty influences derived from coming of age online and outside in a musical capital welcoming to eccentric style. On “Acrid Taste,” there’s a sample of window glass being smashed and sirens ringing out as FearDorian declares, “could never be like my father.” His delivery is harsh and doesn’t shrink behind the discordant production. Deadpan is a word, but it doesn’t sell the weight and sorrow in these tracks. And hope. “Everything feasible, boy, ain’t nothing that I can’t accomplish,” is a battle-cry. The hubris of youth gets stomped out by the truth of the bar. Anything is possible, at least online. The spark is what matters, and he has it.

“Run Dry” is elastic. The breezy beat is Sonic Adventures, Emerald Coast-coded. Even FearDorian, who on the rest of the album adopts a slower pace, speeds along “trying to find ways, trying to go” and light the firestarter for his young career. The crumbly “Don’t Do Anything I Wouldn’t Do” is built upon a tower of flexes. Even with the wobbly vocals—FearDorian sounds like he’s about to fall over and bop the mic with his head as he hits the ground—there’s something so material about the simple, darting lyrics. He almost drowned in Florida. He’s not going back. If FearDorian loves you, he won’t leave you. His brothers are his lifeblood.

I get to this album on a soggy April Fool’s Day in Philly. A morning blanketed by the hopeless gray of week-long showers. I hope the Phils still play, I tell my wife. It’s not lost on me that there’s a song on here called “Raining In Brooklyn,” where the percussive accents are pixelated raindrops hitting a window. As “boss battle music” is an overused description of this side of the underground’s beat tastes, FearDorian makes softer and more lulling Level 1 beats. This ear for tenderness helps FearDorian sound fresh. It’s not mired in influences from a bygone decade, but rather is a real snapshot of the sonic makeup of Dorian himself.

“Raining In Brooklyn” is also the most confident song on FearDorian. It deals with the necessary self-delusion of being a rising artist in a saturated industry, while also coping with the volatile and intense condition of being 17. The crunchy vocals we got used to by “Elysian Heights” are now crystal clear. This album flirts with the moment after a long, late night conversation, where the world feels set right until the next morning.

When there’s unrelenting rain, I’m looking for moody music that wanders but never loses its sense of self. FearDorian brims with stolid energy. The base is strong, and the branches are lithe as they reach out to swipe at the sky. For all the manipulations to FearDorian’s voice and soundstage on this record, clarity is the modus operandi. At the top of the 59-second “What Happened,” FearDorian makes a humble statement: he’s in the scene, but didn’t make the sound. In this moment of acknowledgement and humility, I’m instantly endeared to him. It makes the brags and experimentation across the rest of the album immediately scan as sincere.

That’s why FearDorian works beyond its shape as a 23-minute dash of music, because it’s without a doubt the most honest rendition of the artist at this exact point in time. It’s a bright purple pin on a sprawling map – a neon tab on a lengthy timeline. You can’t miss it. FearDorian puts the artist back in his body, clinging to the present moment, as if to say: I am here, I am right fucking now.

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